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Oak Harbor Marina catches its last load of baby fish
Thirty-thousand coho smolt splashed into holding pens at Oak Harbor Marina for perhaps the last time Wednesday.
The state program, which has brought baby salmon to the facility for more than 20 years, is the latest victim of budget cuts, according to Steve Stout, a hatchery specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Last year, Gov. Chris Gregoire asked all state agencies to reduce their budgets by 10 percent. Stout said part of Fish and Wildlife’s elected cuts would affect Marblemount Hatchery in Skagit County.
Beginning next year, the facility’s annual delivery of 30,000 coho to Oak Harbor and 100,000 to Telegraph Slough will be discontinued. The state budget has yet to be approved by the Legislature, but Stout said he believes the department’s cuts are pretty firm.
The hatchery fish are part of a state program geared toward bolstering Puget Sound fisheries with hatchery salmon. The baby coho are brought to locations such as Oak Harbor where they can grow to about eight inches in length before being released in the summer.
The fish spend the next two or three years at sea before returning to spawn. It’s then that they help relieve the pressure of fishing on wild salmon stocks. According to Stout, catch rates show the program is quite effective.
“These fish produce,” he said.
Marina Harbormaster Chris Sublet said he was disappointed to learn that the program is being discontinued in Oak Harbor. Along with helping the fishery, it’s been a good resource for local elementary schools looking to improve their science programs.
“It not only enhances fishing in the area but it’s an invaluable teaching tool,” Sublet said.
According to Stout, raising the fish for Oak Harbor costs about $7,000 annually. If additional funding was made available, it’s possible the program could continue but no new revenue sources have yet been identified, he said.